|Rice fields in the Philippines|
The rice farming situation in the Philippines is getting closer to dire and almost non-existent. We used to be the largest rice producer in southeast Asia but has now become one of the largest importers in the region. More and more farmers are forgoing the fields in search of better alternatives or selling their lands to land developers converting the much needed planting fields into housing developments.
Farmers who quit the lands are usually those with little to gain and much to loose. Farming in the Philippines is still pretty much dependent on manual labor and other outdated means that seemed to have survived us since the times of the Spanish occupations. Most farmers still plow the fields with carabaos, plant the seeds by hand, spray fertilizers manually and still harvest mostly manually. And there are even some areas that still rely on rain for irrigation.
Farming in general is not subsidized by the government. Funding would usually come from cooperatives that lend them money with interest, but not all areas have working cooperatives and some might not get approved for the loans. In the absence of this option, most farmers would look to private lenders. They would usually turn to better off neighbors and pledge their farms and a portion of their harvest. In a perfect world this would be an okay alternative. However the weather in the Philippines is as unpredictable as its government. What might look to be a promising harvest now could all of a sudden be destroyed by a freak typhoon or heavy rains. If at the end of this harvest period the farmer is not able to meet the pledge required he will be expected to fulfill this obligation in the next planting season. If the same thing continues to occur, the end pledge would be such that almost none would be left for the farmer in his harvest and so he will be forced to accrue another debt or loose the ownership of his rice fields.
Research into rice production has been going on for decades. In point of fact, the IRRI or International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos has been the beacon of knowledge when it comes to rice planting in the Southeast Asia region. Representatives from neighboring countries would come and visit in order to learn better techniques in rice production from our own IRRI scientists. So why then are most of our farmers still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to rice production. And despite of large acres of arable lands, our rice production continue to miss the quota every year?
A probable explanation would be attitude. Most farmers, comfortable with their own methods are not always willing to change or put in more effort when introduced with some new methods in improving rice production. Another reason would probably be the size of rice output per planting season. Most farmlands are parcels with a different owner for every few hectares, as such most only produce yields enough for the owner's consumption. Another cause would be the big company rice buyers. Most would usually hold on to their rice supply until they could be sold at a much higher price. But since low supply and high demand results in rice importation, cheaper rice becomes available in the market and it's the local small farmers that suffer in the end.
According to IRRI, they have been working hand in hand with the Philippine government to solve this issue since 2010. Let's hope that in the near future, a change of attitude and production will be on hand.